During winter is when I really begin to focus my palate on red wines. You can certainly spend a fortune doing that, but you don't have to. Here are six very versatile, enjoyable and, best of all, economical red wines that you can enjoy year-round. They might not have made the last Wine Spectator Top 10 list for this year, but they're sure to fit into even the slimmest of wine budgets.
I had to get out my reading glasses the first time I picked up a bottle of Acinum Chianti DOCG at the wine store. The price couldn't really be a mere $6.90, could it? Yes it could, and is. Acinum is a wine producer imported in the United States by Italian wine expert Fabrizio Pedrolli. I'm a big fan of Acinum Valpolicella Ripasso DOP and Acinum Soave Classico DOP, which come from the Veneto region, but they run for considerably more than Acinum Chianti, from Tuscany. I'm not certain of the makeup of this one, but I'm guessing it's 100 percent Sangiovese. This is a great pizza wine: light-bodied with blackberry, cherry and spice notes, plus good complexity and finish, and is remarkable for the price.
Moving over to France, there are plenty of so-so, mediocre Côtes du Rhône reds to yawn about. Delas Saint-Esprit Côtes du Rhône 2013 ($12.98) isn't one of them. The wine is a bit unusual for a Côtes du Rhône insofar as it's composed of 75 percent Syrah and 25 percent Grenache, not the more typical "GSM" blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. I think that the large percentage of Syrah gives this wine a little more complexity than predominantly Grenache-based Côtes du Rhône. Mocha and plum are the main flavors here, with a bit of green pepper on the finish. Try it with a simple pepper steak.
When it comes to Bordeaux, you tend to get what you pay for ... usually. In the case of Chateau Les Verriers Bordeaux 2014 ($10.99), I believe you get more than you paid for. Now, you're not going to confuse this with a 1st Cru Bordeaux. Chateaux Margaux it ain't. But for $11, this 85/15 percent Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend—although very young—is very pleasant, with dark fruit and pepper flavors and persistent minerality. Bargain Bordeaux, indeed.
From south-eastern Australia comes one of my favorite new reds: 19 Crimes 2015 ($10.99). Like its name—which refers to 19 different crimes that turned British rogues into Australian colonists—this red blend is whimsical, almost tasting like a chocolate-vanilla shake in a wineglass. It's also a fruit bomb, bursting at the seams with currants and dark fruit flavors. I haven't even tried to pair it with food; I've just been enjoying it all on its own.
Truvée means "to find" in French. Truvée McBride Sisters winery is the result of two sisters—Robin and Andrea McBride—finding one another after growing up independently in two different wine regions of the world: New Zealand and California. Truvée Red Blend 2015 ($12.99) is made from California Central Coast Grenache and Syrah. It's a fruit-driven wine with blueberry and cherry notes on the nose, more dark fruit on the palate, soft tannins and hints of vanilla from French oak.
14 Hands Winery 'Hot to Trot' Red Blend 2012 ($12.99) comes from Washington's Columbia Valley and is named in the spirit of the wild horses—measuring 14-hands tall—that once roamed the Columbia River Basin. Hints of baking spices bring to mind a cherry and plum pie in this wine. Don't take it too seriously; just enjoy. CW